Title: Fault Lines
Gen, H/C, Angst
Word Count:
John Sheppard, Rodney McKay (with bonus Emo!Shep)
is my guiding light of grammar, spelling, and "Er... did you mean to say 'guts' or 'guys'?"
Spoilers for most of SGA, including season five up to "The Shrine"
This was written for the SGA H/C Fall 2008 Fic Exchange over on LiveJournal, for Jenny Tork. Prompt is located at the end, as it contains story spoilers.
Summary: Because it most certainly, without a doubt, is not my fault. I am not the harbinger of the apocalypse. That honor is duly reserved for the man in front of me.



You know, it's all fun and games until the world starts falling down around you.

A lot of the time when I say this in the Pegasus Galaxy, I'm speaking metaphorically. Several Wraith hive ships bearing down on Atlantis; that inevitable point during delicate negotiations when Rodney McKay opens his big, fat, unfiltered mouth and we all have to run for our lives; or perhaps certain weapons of mass destruction exploding and taking five-sixths of a solar system with them (and nearly me and certain loudmouths as well). But, sometimes on the rare occasion, the world starts to crumble in the very literal sense.

Right now, Rodney and I are locked in almost a dance as I fling him around the cracked flooring of this decrepit lab. I have his tac-vest in a white-knuckled grip, which serves the dual purpose of maintaining a physical link to him in the middle of this chaos, as well as help keep him from being brained by falling debris. Which is a good thing, because as he tells me (at least twice daily), his brain is extremely valuable and irreplaceable.

But I'm grateful that it's only his and my brain that I have to worry about right now. Ronon and Teyla volunteered to negotiate with the natives when Rodney picked up the energy signatures emitting from this place. They're probably having such a grand old time at the P2Y-459 equivalent of a harvest festival they can't be bothered to answer their radios. Something that might make me a little more concerned if Rodney and I weren't quite so busy doing the Earthquake Tango. As we avoid a falling strut, I might just be starting to regret my decision to give into McKay's whining and check this place out. Our original mission was to establish trade relations on behalf of Atlantis and the Athosians. It was a milk run. A very dull milk run.

And Rodney had whined, and I had listened, and Teyla had all but shoved us out of the tent the negotiations were taking place in—apparently the numerous Earth pop cultural references were impeding the process some.

Politics have never really been my strong point. That's why I have Teyla. It's her job to smile patiently, say the pretty words, and usually come out heads and shoulders above the other party like any good capitalist businesswoman. I have a feeling that if she had been born on Earth, she'd be running some major corporation—or quite possibly one of the world's superpower nations. And she'd do a damn good job at it, because unlike me, politics and negotiations are totally her arena.

With every passing day, it becomes abundantly clear to me that my specialty is keeping McKay alive when the world is bound and determined to kill us both.

"We are going to die!"

It's a thankless job, I assure you.

Another tremor rocks the building and nearly knocks me off my feet. An equally tight-fisted grip on my jacket keeps me from going down. I don't have time to offer thanks or some sort of ironic, grim smile because a chunk of the ceiling loosens and I'm forced to spin us in the opposite direction.

A spectacular crash echoes in my ears and a cloud of dust and debris kicks up that invades my lungs. Through the dual hacking fit, I manage to hear the hoarse accusation of, "This is all your fault!"

"How," another cough interrupts me, so I try again, "how can—" my throat feels like it's coated with dust, meaning talking is probably not the best of ideas, "—this possibly be my fault?"

Yes, the building is crumbling down around us, I feel like I've just inhaled half of the ceiling, but I can't let him have the last word. It's one of those cute, charming things about our friendship. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we'll be arguing right up until the end. I'm Butch Cassidy in this retelling... and maybe Sundance too. Rodney can be Katharine Ross.

"Already told you..." He heaves in a deep breath as he stumbles back. He lands wrong, and with my grip I can feel more than see his knee starting to twist at an awkward angle as the floor rocks underneath us from another aftershock.

I yank him back up, because Rodney with two fully-functioning legs is hard enough to keep moving toward the exit. I really don't need to be carrying him out of here. "Told me... what?"

There's also the slightest chance that I might have a teensy bit of pride staked in the outcome of this argument. Because it most certainly, without a doubt, is not my fault. I am not the harbinger of the apocalypse. That honor is duly reserved for the man in front of me.

"You know—"

This time we hack in unison, but we've almost cleared the dust cloud. The struts above us are trembling, bending under an awkward angle. This facility is a single-story, so thankfully no upper-stories can crash down on us. (Been there, done that, have the lovely puckered scar to forever remind me of it.) However, the shell of this place is made out of a heavy, concrete-like material, which won't feel too good if it happens to land on our heads. I'm guessing the original builders thought the material would endure almost anything. Considering our present circumstances, I have serious doubts that they were really up to code on earthquake-proofing this place.

Which pisses me off a tiny bit, if anything McKay had been babbling on about earlier had been true. Now, I hadn't exactly been giving his lecture my complete and full attention—he has a tendency to talk just to hear his own voice—but I do remember something along the lines of "seismic activity" and "drilling into a fault zone".

"No, I don't know," I manage to get out. It's a little easier to breathe, and therefore speak, but my voice sounds about as rough and gravelly as my throat feels. "I was not the person who decided to build this place on top of a fault line."

"As if." Rodney's annoyed reply is strained, and his face flushed and sweating from the exertion of our impromptu tango across the wobbly floor. In spite of both this and our coughing fits, Rodney still manages to be ridiculously long-winded. "Despite your lack of expertise in both structural engineering and applied physics, even you're not stupid enough to contemplate attempting what these idiots did."

"Gee, thanks." I'm really not one for backhanded compliments, and right now there's more important things than railing against the morons of days-gone-by.

"You're welcome." He waves a hand dismissively at me, indicating that he wants to settle for a moment and catch his breath. Of course, the latter might be much easier to do if he stopped talking for just a few seconds. "Seriously, though, how short-sighted were these people?"

I readjust my grip on his vest and give him a none-too-gentle shove toward the doorway that has miraculously survived the tremors. "I really don't care."

"Well, you should, especially seeing as how this is your fault!"

Here we go again. "Not my fault."

"Really? Really? So I guess it was our invisible fifth team member, Casper the Friendly Ghost, who wound up pulling the release valve on Earthquake City."

I grind my teeth, which ironically enough are pretty gritty from the inhaled dust. If I had time to stop, I might rinse my mouth out with a water bottle from my pack—but time really isn't a luxury we have right now. Besides, both of our packs are now trapped under a large portion of the lab's ceiling.

Now, in my defense, nothing in this lab is labeled in clear, concise English (or Farsi, German, or Ancient for that matter). Also, as much as it pains me to say... I tripped. Said lever broke my fall. But, er, I'm not admitting that part aloud.

As I said, it's a matter of personal pride.

That, and part of me wonders if Rodney has any clue what anything in this place does. I really doubt he has a Babelfish plug-in for that Ancient scanner—and this place, with its shoddy workmanship and shaky science, doesn't resemble anything remotely close to Ancient. Which begs the question:

"How do you know that?"

"It's a simple matter of cause and effect. You pull a lever, and the world starts shaking and crumbling around us."

Aha! "So you don't really know what that lever did."

"Yes I do." His indignant sniff becomes a cough but Rodney plows on despite the difficulty. "I might have a hard time reading most of this stuff—"

"You can read it?"

"Not really. It resembles the Genii character set, but grammatically it seems pretty different, or well that's just a guess because it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I mean, really, it's not like I'm the resident linguist, and—you've derailed me."

"Good. Let's leave." I push him through the doorway into the corridor that leads to the entrance of this place.

The hallway looks mostly intact, except for one section where the wall has crumbled into a pile that obstructs the way. As it's the most direct route out, not to mention the only one, it looks like we'll have to climb it. There should be two more possibly collapsed halls to until we reach the foyer, and then we just need to cross a nice, large structurally unsound room in order to escape this death trap. Piece of cake, right?

We halt at the pile, and with a ticking clock in the back of my mind, I test it for stability. Seems fine.

"—where was I? Oh, yes, your fault."

I don't resist the urge to roll my eyes, but I might be a little rough when I help give him a nudge over the crumbled wall. "Can we please focus on getting out of here alive?"

"What? You don't think I can multitask?"


"I'm quite aware of the danger we're in, Sheppard—seeing as I was the one who pointed it out to you before you brought everything crashing down on heads." I hear him land on the other side of the pile with a soft thud. I'm guessing he's okay, because I hear no girly squealing. As if reading my mind, he snaps, "Oh, ha ha!"

"I didn't say anything."

"No, but you were thinking it loud enough to be heard back in Atlantis."

"Handy trick. Think I can use it to send for help?"


"You started it." The walls let out a low, keening groan, and I swallow past the lingering dryness in my throat. "Okay, that? Not so funny."

"No," he agrees quietly. "I think you should hurry."

"Really? I thought I might hang around a little. It's been a whole six months since the last time a building collapsed on me. It was so much fun, I thought I might try it again."

"Typical," he snorts. "Everything in this galaxy falls for you, including the buildings."

I wince. "Okay, that was just bad enough to make me a little embarrassed to know you."

"Shut up, it was clever!"

"No, it wasn't." The pile doesn't look to have shifted any, so hopefully it'll be stable enough for one more trip.

"Whatever. I still told you so." Mature Rodney, real mature.

"You did not."

"I so did. You just weren't listening, like usual."

"You so didn't," I shoot back, as I study the debris obstructing my path, trying to figure out the best way to scale it. Unlike McKay, I don't have a human stepping stool available to give me a boost.

"Yes, I did," he insists. His voice sounds a little too close, as if he's pressed against the other side of the pile.

"Back off." If the thing comes down while I'm on top, the last thing I want to do is dig him out. The complaints alone—

"What are you doing over there? Taking a vacation? Hurry up!"

"I'm considering buying a timeshare. You know how fond I am of the bomb shelter look." I've always heard that Bolivia is nice this time of year. "Now seriously, back off—I don't know how stable this thing is."

"Fine," he snaps, but the fading volume on his subsequent rant lets me know that he's complied with my request. "By the way, according to the gibberish notes, I was also right about those emitters outside being for some type of shield. Not a big one, though. I'm thinking it covers a very short distance, as everything I've been able to make out indicates that this place was a prototype. Obviously a very unsuccessful one."

"Obviously." I grab a firm hold of a jagged piece of concrete, and plant one foot against the pile. Nothing shifts when I lean my weight into it, so it looks like it'll hold.

"I mean, I guess the initial theory behind their crackpot science could have sounded viable—to those who have no idea what they're doing. Yes, there's a lot of geothermal energy just waiting to be tapped into, but still drilling into the planet's crust is just stupid—"

"Didn't the Ancients do the same thing with that drilling platform on old Lantea?" I point out as I heave myself up onto the pile of debris. I manage to find a foothold about halfway up, which makes it a little easier to vault to the top. Unfortunately the rough surface on my handhold scrapes my palms just enough to make me falter and I wince at the less-than-graceful landing.

Damn, there goes my gold medal for perfect form.

Rodney is pointing a sour look my way, and I can't help shoot him a grin. I'm not sure if I incurred his fearsome wrath because of my clearly enviable acrobatic skills, interrupting him again, having pointed out a flaw in his one-sided rant, or possibly some combination of all three. It doesn't matter, there's just something a little bit hilarious about that look. Possibly because the way his cheeks flare out always manage to resemble an angry goldfish—or perhaps a very irate squirrel with a mouth stuffed full of acorns. I drop down next to him, dusting my stinging hands off on my equally dusty pants. The cloud of dirt this raises elicits a scoff from my reluctant traveling companion, but there is no argument to continue on.

"First off," he huffs as we arrive at the next corridor, "the Ancients knew what they were doing—and the people who built this place were most certainly not the Ancients. Technologically they're more on par with the Genii, and considering the language similarities, who's to say they didn't take lessons from our favorite backstabbing allies on all of the ways to ignore any basic safety precautions?"

"Are you saying that this is a Genii outpost?"

He pauses for a moment. "No... well, maybe. This place is so ancient, it could have been built before they went underground permanently. Maybe everything here reads so strange because it's an older form of the language."

"Kind of like Shakespeare?"

"Oh, yeah, that's it: Shakespearian Genii." He rolls his eyes. "But soft, what light yonder poorly disguised underground bunker breaks?"

"A nuke, a nuke. My kingdom for a nuke."

He shoots me a dirty look. "Life is a tale told by an idiot—full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

"The Lady Meredith doth protest too much, methinks."

"No one asked you!" He shoots me an even dirtier look for the snicker I am unable (to even try) to contain. "And you're trying to distract me again." True enough. "Anyway, back to point number two—the project on old Lantea was different from what 'Shakespeare' and company were attempting to do here. The Ancients were tapping into the thermal power generated by..."

I tune him out as I study the hallway. This one is fully intact, and I can't see any sign of structural damage. Looks like there might be a chance that we'll make it out of here alive and whole, if not a little bit dusty... maybe a little bit crusty in Rodney's case.

"Seventh, and finally—I'm just saying," I tune back in for the tail-end of the long-winded explanation/rant, "trying to generate power via earthquakes: doomed for failure!"

I kind of have to agree with him, especially as another tremor rolls through the building. Something within the thick walls groans ominously, and I wait only long enough to be sure it's not going to dump the ceiling on us before I unceremoniously shove Rodney down the hall.

His out-of-breath rant has reached the point where he's tearing down each scientific folly with renewed vigor. "I mean, technically it's not an earthquake—"

"Of course not. It would be a P2Y-459quake."

"Thank you for that non-sequitur. But what I was trying to say is that typically, quakes are caused by energy released during rapid slippage along a fault. From our current predicament, it's fairly obvious there's a seismic energy release. But from what I could get, it's not actual slippage so much as—ack!"

I yank him around the corner to the last hallway, cutting off his rambling with a surprised yelp. Maybe there's a point to all of this, but right now I need my focus for getting us out of this place. We're getting close though, because I can see the foyer beyond the opened double doors of this corridor. The lights recessed into the walls are flickering, illuminating a large crack running through the ceiling.

I'm pretty sure Rodney sees the crack too, because he doesn't start back up again. Our jog to the foyer is quiet except for that same foreboding groaning within the walls and the sound of our labored breathing. If I were less charitable, I'd blame it on the excessive amount of time that Rodney spends in the lab, but I'm pretty winded too. By the time we make it to the doorway to the foyer, both of our chests are heaving. My throat is still dry and tacky, making each deep, sucked-in breath burn just a little more than it usually would.

"Where... was I?" he pants.

"I really... don't care," I return, more concerned about studying our last roadblock to the relative freedom and safety of the outside world than... than... whatever it is he's been going on about.

The foyer is probably the largest room in the whole complex. It's large and circular in construction, and the ceiling towers above us at about two and a half stories. From the leftover bits of rotting furniture, I'm guessing it was supposed to be some sort of greeting area. Hell, there had even been a chandelier of sorts hanging above us when we first came in. Had being the key word. All that's left of it now are the shards of glass littering the floor and its chain lazily swinging overhead.

The ceiling itself isn't faring so well either. The network of support beams look strained, and that angry groan I heard earlier is an all out moan now. Patches of sunlight stream through the places where the supports have already failed, and through the dust and settling debris I think I can see the doorframe to freedom—bent and buckling under the stress.

"Crap," just about sums it up.

"Yeah," Rodney breathes. "Think we can make it?"

The bright sunlight promises a little hope, despite the angry warnings from the building's failing supports. It looks passable, but I definitely don't want to be caught underneath that thing if another tremor hits.

"Maybe," I finally concede.

"Your confidence gives me strength in moments like these."

I allow myself a small moment of self-pity, and briefly contemplate banging my head against the unstable wall in an attempt to bring the place down. At least it would be a quicker, less agonizing end.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm thinking about taking my chances with the building—it's much less annoying."

His nose flares as he exhales an angry snort. "You are so not funny!"

"Neither are you," I point out sourly.

"I wasn't trying to be."

"Well, neither was I!"

"Good, because your sense of humor sucks!"

"So does yours!" I can feel the wall tremble under my hand as the angry moan cuts the rest of the very pertinent and extremely relevant argument short. Something shifts overhead and I feel my stomach do a flip. "Yeah, okay, I take part of that back. This building is not my friend."

"Good of you to notice that," he sniffs indignantly. I think he winds up inhaling a little dust with the action, because this sets off a series of high-pitched, almost painful sounding sneezes. When the sneezing fit ends, he lets out a ragged sigh. "God, I hate this place."

"What do you say we get the hell out of here, then?"

"I think that's the best idea you've had all day."

Unfortunately the obstacle course of debris makes it a little slower going than I'd like. Of course, seeing as how I'd like the ability to just teleport out of here, that's not really saying much. Actually, we're moving along at a good clip. We're almost halfway there, and I'm contemplating our chances with that door when it starts up again.

"All right, this is seriously getting annoying." The ground beneath our feet trembles with renewed vigor. "How many more of these are there going to be?"

"I already told you—" Rodney starts, then frowns, "wait, weren't you listening?"

"No!" I shout but the groaning walls drown me out.

My only warning that things are about to turn south is the shriek of the abused metal supports giving way. Blindly, I grab Rodney and barely yank him out of the way before the first strut snaps and swings by where his head would have been. The Earthquake Tango resumes as we dance away from the crumbling ceiling and collapsing supports raining down on us. I try to aim our direction to the exit, but so much dust is being kicked up it's hard to tell which way is which.

"I am so filing a complaint when we get back to Atlantis!" he shouts as we barely avoid a falling purlin.

"With who?"

"The NAHB! The CHBA! Anyone who will listen!"

"Yeah, because the IOA will give them clearance to read the report!"

"Oh, good idea! I'll go to them next!"

"Watch out!" I yank us to a stop moments before a chunk of concrete crashes to the ground.

My palms are slick with sweat, and my fingers ache from the tight grip I have on Rodney's vest but there's no way in hell I'm letting go. It appears like the sentiment might be mutual, because he has an equally firm hold on me too. I'm relying on instinct, that buzzing sixth sense in the back of my mind as much as sight and sound to keep us both from being crushed.

He's stumbling, and it has to be hell for him to keep his footing between the trembling ground and me yanking him around like an abused teddy bear. "Did I mention how much this sucks?"

"Yes!" And quite possibly that comes out more harshly than absolutely necessary. "Message received!"

"Just checking!"

"Now isn't the best time!"

"Now is the perfect time! And why are you getting snippy? You started all of this—"

"Later!" I bellow as I toss us out of the path of a jagged piece of falling metal. It may have once been a girder, but stopping to check really isn't a priority at the moment.

I have no idea how long it takes, but the rumbles slowly fade away, and the shrieking of metal dies away to disgruntled groans. A patchwork of sunlight streams through the holes in the ceiling above, but the air is still filled with floating debris.

"Looks like it's over," I try to say, but choke on the dust in the air.

"For now," Rodney amends with a painful, hacking cough.

The pessimism is probably warranted, but not necessarily appreciated. I'm about to say something of the like, but the groaning grows angrier in tone just as something gives away above. I don't even have time to locate the source of the danger, and using my still-tight grip on Rodney, spin us around and backward—and Rodney narrowly avoids being crushed by the piling tumbling from directly overhead.

The dust is kicked up again, forcing me to hold my breath until it disperses. When it does, I can't help but suck in a quick breath as the clearing air reveals that the piling missed him by a scant few inches. Almost unconsciously, my grip on Rodney's vest tightens. "Damn."

"What?" His eyes are impossibly wide and seem to be fixated on me. The worry and blind faith in that intense gaze is just a little unnerving.

"That was..." I let the same breath out, not happy with its shuddering quality. "...close."

"Do I want to know exactly how close?"

I shake my head very slowly. "No."

He closes his eyes and swallows heavily, Adam's apple bobbing with the action. "Thanks."


From the continued sounds of distress on the girders above, it's probably not a good idea to be standing around and taking a break. But that had been a close call. Way too close for my comfort. Rodney annoys the ever living crap out of me, and is probably the only person in the universe that I want to murder on an almost daily basis... but he's Rodney.

It's his job to be loud, irritating, exasperating, obnoxious, infuriating, and curious to such a fault that he attracts trouble like moth to a flame. Just like it's my job to make sure that he gets out of that trouble alive... and there's also the small possibility I could have something akin to a passing fondness for him, in spite of all of that—or maybe because of it.

"I think I'm done here," he says quietly, and I can hear a familiar, shaky confidence shored up under the palpable fear.

That passing fondness is miniscule in scale, practically microscopic and buried under a mountain of exasperation and tested patience. Still, I offer him what I'm hoping is an encouraging smile. I guess I can let him be Sundance. I never liked Katharine Ross that much anyway. "In that case, I say we get the heck out of Dodge."

"Once again, I'm forced to agree with your quaint yet simplistic ways of stating the obvious." The cocky edge starts to creep back into his tone, which is the way I prefer my megalomaniacal geniuses. "In fact, I think—" there's another shriek from above and his eyes widen, "Shep—"

I don't have time to register the barking quality of his voice or the rush of wind overhead. His grip tightens on my vest as he takes lead of the tango. With more strength or speed than I'd give him credit for, he gives my vest a hard yank that spins us around. We stumble a few steps before an angry jolt shakes us apart. I fly to the ground, landing with enough force to leave me dazed. There's a horrible screech of metal and something else as some other part of this place crashes into the ground, sending up another cloud of debris and dust. I choke, blindly groping through the wreckage and chaos for my teammate. He can't be that far away.

"Rodney!" Through my own hacking and the fading rumbles, it's a miracle that I can hear his strained reply. I keep on searching, trying to see through the fog of debris. He just wasn't that far away—"Damn, it, McKay! Where are you?"

I hear his croaked "—eppard" just as the dust cloud begins to clear. At first, all I can see is his impossibly wide-eyed stare, the way his tight expression eases some as he's able to pick me out from the other dust-coated pieces of debris.

And then I see the bloody, steel rebar jutting out from his shoulder.

It's pinning him to a jagged chunk of the not-concrete ceiling that had probably been supported by the fallen piling. My heart starts hammering louder, drowning out everything else. If he hadn't moved us, that damn piece of metal would be sticking out of the center of my chest—turning me into a literal Shep-kabob. A hot, angry surge of something sweeps over me, and I don't realize I'm shaking until I'm moving, stumbling over debris to reach him.

He tries to gasp something, and I fling out a hand to forestall him. "Don't move."

He stills immediately, and I quickly cross the distance. It isn't nearly far enough to allow me to trap the shaking, helpless rage and lock it away. It courses through my veins, vibrating beneath my skin even as I try to assess the situation. His pulse is racing, breaths coming in short, small gasps. This does nothing to help me find my own sense of calm, because I know that right now he needs that even more than I do. The stupid, selfish, self-sacrificing bastard.

"Don't move," I repeat needlessly.

"Yeah," he gasps, "got that."

"Shut up," I snap, because damn it, sarcasm is not going to help things here. "Just... give me a minute to figure this out."

I need much more than a minute. I need Keller. I need Carson even though he's still back on Earth. Hell, I need a whole damn infirmary filled with doctors and surgeons. I need a hacksaw or something like it to cut him loose—there's another groan and shift above—but most of all I need the world to stop falling down on me for just five goddamn minutes.

"You... should probably go."

"That was not a minute."

"Sorry," his soft tone is laced with an undercurrent of sarcasm. "...can't see my... watch right now."

Absurdly, part of me wants to throttle him. I check the urge, because strangling the injured party probably wouldn't help things in the long run. I settle on shooting him a stern look instead. "Didn't I say no talking?"

"Did you?"

I lift my lip into a snarl, ignoring the bait in favor of trying to examine the wound. The bar is sticking out just under his collarbone, meaning its high enough to where there's no danger of it having pierced any internal organs. Without any equipment I can't tell for sure if it hit any major arteries or veins. Although from the looks of it, the chances are...

My fingers close around the blood-slicked metal, clenching hard enough to break through the angry haze clouding my vision.

The chances are that it hit something vital, which means that moving him is out of the question. The pressure on the wound is the only thing keeping him from bleeding out. If I took him off of the rebar, even with how close the jumper is parked, his chances on making it to the gate aren't good. If the damnable thing nicked the artery, I might not even be able to get him out of the building.

"This... kind of sucks."

"Shut up, Rodney."

"But it does."

"Shut up."

"Ingrate. You'd deny me... my dying words."

"You're not dying!" I punctuate the statement by slamming my fist against the stupid chunk of ceiling he's skewered on. An angry spike of pain jolts up my arm. "Son of a—"


I curse, cradling my fist as I pace away from him. "I'm the idiot?"

His derisive snort is half-hearted at best.

"You were the one who practically leapt onto the shish kabob!"

"That... sounds tasty." He lets out a very quiet, gurgling laugh. "Shish... ka-Rodney."

"Rodney, that is in no way funny."

He just giggles. "That kind of rhymes."

Shit. I've got to get him out of here. Now.

Even though it's been quiet ever since the quakes started, I try my radio again. "Ronon, Teyla, come in." Please.

I wait an interminable amount of time, but the only reply I get is another painful moan from the building, and Rodney's shock-induced giggling. Every time I think I understand the true definition of hell, something else has to happen to make me reassess it. Michael kidnaps Teyla, Wraith try to brainwash Ronon, parasites try to suck out Rodney's brain, baby hive ships skewer me with tentacles—or the selfless streaks of cowardly scientists rear their head at the worst possible time.

He's still giggling, the sound growing more strangled and pained as he starts to move around. I place a firm hand on his good shoulder, and he stills.

"This sucks."

"Yeah." It really does. "I can't pull you off this thing."

"I know," he admits, voice so quiet I have to strain to hear it above the dying song of the building. "Genius, remember?"

My jaw clenches, fingers digging into the thick material of his vest.

If I had something that could separate the rebar from the concrete, this wouldn't be a problem. However, the only power tools we keep stocked in the jumpers are for onboard repairs (and the occasional DIY-brain surgery)—but nothing that can snap the thick metal. His only other chance is to bring back a medical team from Atlantis.

However, getting them here requires me leaving first.

"Go," he whispers, even if the tight grip on my sleeve says otherwise.

If I run, which I would, and push the jumper's engines to the max, it would take me at least ten minutes to get to the gate. It would take at least another two to explain the situation. Knowing Keller, she'd probably manage to get an emergency team and supplies assembled in less than eight minutes. Then another ten back to the building.

The strained supports whine as something shifts above, and we're showered with a fresh onslaught of dirt. It doesn't really make much of a difference, as we're already caked in gray and white.

It would take thirty minutes in total to leave and come back. In thirty minutes...

Tiny vibrations in the floor give me just enough warning, and I cover Rodney's body with mine as another tremor rocks the place. I press as close as I possibly can, hoping the pressure might keep him still despite the quake. An agonized cry is torn from Rodney as the rebar jars and shakes with the rest of the room. Any and every protective gesture is useless—I grind my teeth together, trying anyway—but I still can't stop the world from falling down.

Everything settles back into an unstable state of quiet. It's all gone still, but Rodney's body is quivering as he takes quick, choked breaths that are supposed to disguise the quiet whimpers he can't quite stop from escaping. I squeeze my eyes shut, struggling to keep my breathing steady and calm.

It will take thirty minutes to get help.

Thirty useless minutes—because this place is coming down right now.

If I leave to even try, not only will Rodney die... but he'll die alone. And that is unacceptable, because Butch and Sundance go out together. I'm starting to think I could make a decent argument on the similarities of the Shakespearian Genii Death Trap to Bolivia.

"Get off me," he chokes out with little force.

I push away, deliberately focusing past his tortured expression to the bar anchoring him here. Very gently, I probe the wound and am relieved to find that somehow that last tremor didn't make things worse. Which, granted, right now is a very subjective term.

"...so screwed," he mutters.

"You're fine."

"Oh yeah?" He takes in shallow breaths, probably trying to minimize as much movement as possible. "Wanna... trade spots?"

I purse my dry and cracked lips, but can't say anything.

"God, you do."

Which is absurd, because I've already been impaled twice this year. It hurt like you wouldn't believe, and I haveno clue how I survived the first time, much less the second. And if somehow, magically, I was granted the chance to trade spots and be stuck like a pig for a third time this year to save his aggravating ass from this hellish experience—I would so jump on that opportunity faster than Rodney can make someone cry.

So yes. Yes, I do.

"What of it?" I growl.

"Figures," he grumbles. "St'pid question."

"Yes, it was."

He's quiet for a few moments, and considering the source, this is probably a pretty good indicator of shock. Finally, he lifts his chin indignantly—or he tries. The way his clenched jaw trembles kind of ruins the effect. I give him points for the effort, anyway. "Why aren't you... gone yet?"

"I'm not leaving."

"'s not smart."

"Never claimed that it was."

His forehead creases into a confused frown. "But you have to."

"No, I don't."

"Idiot... 'm stuck."

"Yeah, I got that."

"I can't move."

"Got that too."

It's taking him a little longer to catch on, but all things considered, I'll give him a break. He processes the next few thoughts internally, but I can pretty much follow the thought pattern with each expression he flips through. He goes from confusion, to shock, to annoyance, to outrage. "You... suicidal... jerk."

"No one left behind," I remind him.

"I... saved your life." Yep—idiot. "The least you could do... is keep it... longer than five minutes!"

"The way I see it," I tell him as patiently as I can with a building threatening to completely collapse on us, "we have two options."

"Do we?"

"One: we move you off that damn thing—and run like hell for the jumper. We've got maybe two pressure bandages between us, which won't even slow the bleeding if you have a busted vein or artery—and you probably have at least one of those."

"I save you and the thanks I get... is you killing me?" Which is putting it bluntly, yes. Choosing option one has a high probability of being a death sentence. And as much of an ass as he can be—Rodney's just selfless enough to try and save me from that too.

"Option two," I continue, "we both take our chances with the building. Maybe Ronon and Teyla will somehow finally find the 'on' button to their radios and can send for the cavalry. We wait and hope that we're not crushed to death in the meanwhile."

"Or three," he breathes, "you go... and bring them back."

I point up just as a sad keen comes from the remaining, buckling struts keeping everything from coming down on us. "That's not going to hold long enough for a round trip."

"Then just... go."


"I'm already dead."

"Could have fooled me with all of that talking."

Despite having one foot in the grave, Rodney's cheeks still manage to puff out, nostrils flaring as he pins me with the fiercest glare a human shish kabob can muster. I can't help a small, sad smile—because it is in no way hilarious this time.

"Leave," he spits out.

"And exactly how are you going to make me do that?" The nerve in his jaw twitches, as he continues to glare at me. "One way or another, Rodney, we're going out together."

Metaphorically or literally, I don't care.

It doesn't take him long to come to a decision. "I hate you."

"I know."

"Well... what are you waiting for?"


"Fine. Kill me. See if I care."

"Will do."

I open up one of the pockets on his vest and carefully pull free the pressure bandage stowed there. I use it to wipe away the grime and caked dust on the rebar, trying to get it as clean as possible—because if by some miracle the uncontrolled bleeding doesn't kill him, it would really suck for an infection to do it. I locate the bandage stashed away in my vest, but leave it in the pocket since I have no clean place to put it. By the time I'm ready, he's sweating, face flushed underneath the streaks of gray and white dust. Good thing we're trying this now, because I'm not sure how much time he has left before he goes into shock.

I meet his gaze steadily, despite the loud hammering in my own chest. "Ready?"

"Do it."

Nothing can prepare me for the raw, horrifying screech he makes when I pull him off—but there's no time to dwell on that. I wrap the bandage around the wound as best as I can, and it's already starting to show red by the time I get us both upright and start staggering toward the crippled door out of here. He stumbles along for a few steps, nearly dragging both of us down as his knees give out less than halfway there.

My back creaks and cries in protest as I switch to a fireman's carry, and if we make it back in time, he is so shedding his cushy scientist pounds. I really do mean that this time.

The doorway creaks and groans, but it doesn't give way as I stagger through, having to twist awkwardly to keep from banging Rodney's head on the bent frame. The jumper isn't parked that far away, and has managed to avoid being damaged by any falling debris. At least that's one time his whining has paid off.

The jumper's ramp lowers just as the ground shudders again. The building gives one final angry screech of metal and rock clashing together before it gives up the ghost and comes down on itself. So much for Shakespeare.

The muscles in my shoulder and back are screaming at me as I stumble up the ramp—and it's a slow, painful process of getting him off my shoulder and into the copilot's seat. I'd put him on one of the benches in the back, but I can keep an eye on him from up here. I take a few precious seconds to fumble through the first aid kit and quickly redress the wound before I have to take the pilot's seat. With each beat of his heart, more blood is pumped through his veins, and by proxy, that ragged, bloody wound. Each second wasted takes him one step further from survival.

Screw pre-flight, it's overrated anyway. The ramp has barely shut by the time we're up in the sky and racing in the direction of the gate. "Just hang on, Rodney."

I take the guttural moan as the closest he can get to a "Why, sure thing, Sheppard. I have nothing better to do right now but concede to your every demand. By the way, Katharine Ross? You really suck."

The landscape is whipping below us as we race toward the gate. Because I can multi-task, I try to raise Ronon and Teyla one more time.

"Guys, I really need you to answer me." And it's just not my day, because still the only reply get is silence. I'm pretty sure they're in some kind of trouble, but I can't stop and try and find them. The hands on the clock are moving too fast, and I don't have the time or skill to pull off two daring rescues simultaneously. "It's Rodney. He's... it's not good."

There's still no answer.

"I have to get him to the gate, I don't have time to stop right now." I feel like I'm talking to myself. "But I'll come back for you, I promise."

Even if I am talking to the wind, I'm a hundred percent certain they'd understand—probably do the same thing. If I even wanted to think about stopping to look for them with Rodney in his current state, I have no doubt that they'd both take turns beating me until I was black, blue, and bleeding worse than him. Gotta love my team.

I look over at the passenger seat, and my stomach lurches, because the bit of his complexion I can see under the dirt is gray, and the fresh bandage is growing darker. "Still with me over there?"

His eyes flutter open, but the glazed over look isn't helping the outlook any. "Where?"

"Close—just stay with me. We'll be there soon."


I turn my attention back to our course, wondering if it's possible to push the engines faster. Next time Rodney sees a mysterious energy signature, I don't care if it can lead us to an entire warehouse full of ZPMs, it's not happening. And no matter how mind numbingly dull the negotiations are, we'll just suck it up. And ignore Teyla's looks of promised retribution if we don't stop cracking jokes. And above all, I'm going to have that selfless streak of his surgically removed so I don't ever have to make this decision ever again. If I explain it just right, I'm sure I could get Keller to agree with me and perform the surgery pro bono.

I adjust our heading to try and shave off a few seconds when a movement from copilot's seat grabs my attention. I glance over to see Rodney trying to pull himself up straighter. He's staring at me intensely, expression tight as if he's using all of strength just to stay conscious. "...hey."

"I'm going as fast as I can," I promise him.

He shakes his head softly. "Earlier... I didn't mean it."

"Less talking, and more focus on not bleeding to death, Rodney."

"John," a cold dread settles over me at his adamant tone, "it's not... your fault."

If only that were really true. "Rodney..."

"It's not," he insists quietly before settling back into the seat. His eyes drift shut and he just seems to just relax... looking almost peaceful, and unnaturally still. Things get a little blurry for the next few minutes, but it definitely involves a lot of shouting, cursing, and trying to convince the jumper to go to hyperspace without having a hyperdrive installed.

As soon as the gate is within range, I dial Atlantis and very calmly and coolly inform them to drop the shield—Chuck's strained reply disagrees with the assessment of my own mental state, but he doesn't call me on it—and, just as calm and composed, I "ask" them to have a medical team ready. The jumper barely touches the ground before I leap from my seat and grab Rodney. I haul him up and stagger out to try and meet the medical team halfway. We manage to make it all the way down the jumper's ramp before they swarm us, buzzing with questions, and trying to tug us apart.

"John." Keller is at my side, prying my fingers off of Rodney, "I need you to let him go."

I think I may have gone a little bit crazy somewhere between leaving Shakespearian Genii Bolivia and now, because that makes far less sense than it should. She gently, but firmly, forces me to release my death grip—and is shouting orders to her team as soon as they get him on the waiting gurney. I trail behind a few steps because I just can't leave him, when another doctor—Hunnicut or something like that—is trying to push me onto another gurney.

"I'm fine," I snarl, pulling a Ronon tactic and lifting my lip to reveal my canines. It's probably more effective on him, but apparently still fierce enough to make the doctor back off ever-so-slightly. I turn back just in time to see the team roll Rodney out of the Gate Room and out of sight. A vice tightens around my chest, and I make a move to follow them when I suddenly realize I have another promise I made that I have yet to keep. "I have to go back."

I start toward the ramp, but the crafty doctor has managed to recruit a few allies in corralling me toward the infirmary. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you leave until we clear you."

"Ronon and Teyla are still back there," I bark. I left them behind. I left them.

"I'll send Major Lorne's team," Woolsey assures me in his usual manner. I don't remember seeing him leave his office—of course, I hadn't exactly been paying attention.

"I have to go."

"Colonel..." He trails off, indicating my current state with an elaborate wave of his hand. "We can't let you leave as you are."

I look down, and every part of me is caked with some mixture of blood, dust, and debris. "It's not mine."

"We have to check you out first." There's no reason for them to not take me at my word. It's not like I have ever rushed off into danger to save a member of my team, blithely ignoring a mortal injury in the process.

Oh wait.

"I'm sorry, Colonel," except Woolsey doesn't sound that contrite, "but you cannot leave the base until you're cleared medically. It's protocol."

"I don't have time for protocol—"

His expression goes stony while the insistent hands keep trying to push me back onto that damn gurney. I could fight them all off, grab the jumper, and just go. Except that might be a tiny bit insane and completely unnecessary. Lorne is already geared up and making his way to the parked jumper. He'll find Ronon and Teyla and bring them back.

Except that I made that promise.

"Colonel, you're blocking access to the gate." You know, it's a hell of a lot easier to dislike Woolsey when he's not looking so damn concerned. "The jumper can't leave to find the rest of your team until you move."

That's a low blow, and he knows it. It takes several tries to swallow my rising anger past the dust coating my throat. I could still ignore him, his damn protocols, and force my way back onto the jumper and find the rest of my team. I could, except that would just waste more time.

Without a word to any of them I stalk off to the infirmary, my assigned posse of medics trailing after me.

By the time they finish poking and prodding, and discover that I'm not the big fat, mortally wounded liar they take me for, Lorne and his team have already left. I have nothing to do but wait: wait for Lorne to finish his search, wait for Ronon and Teyla to come back, wait for Keller to finish the surgery... wait to see if I've wound up killing Rodney after all.

With nothing to do but wait, I take Hunnicut up on the offer to use the shower in the infirmary so I might look a little less like a refugee who just escaped from a war zone. I could go back to my quarters and use my own shower, but I'm closer to the OR here. They might let me know if something happens and Rodney doesn't... no.

No more ifs.

I busted my ass to get him back here, I had to leave Ronon and Teyla behind, and may have freaked out Woolsey and some other staff members in the process of all that—so McKay can have the common courtesy to not die on me now. End of story.

Hot, scalding water pounds down on my back. The warm water soothes some of the soreness there and begins to wash away the top layer of caked on blood, dirt, and grime. I can't lose myself in the sensation, because every second I'm in here I can't watch the door to the OR. When I get out, I find a fresh set of real clothes waiting for me instead of scrubs. I guess someone took pity on their poor, insane commanding officer. Stiffly, I pull on the new clothes and toss the dusty, bloody rags on my way out.

But the clock is still ticking, and I'm still waiting.

I have worn a very light trench into floor of the waiting room when Teyla and Ronon burst in. I pause on the four-hundredth pass across the room, and allow myself to just look at them. Ronon's a little ragged and sporting the beginnings of a shiner around one eye. Most of Teyla's hair has escaped its ponytail and her offworld uniform is a little dirty, but otherwise she looks okay. They're both all right, in one piece, and most importantly, here.

I'm preparing an explanation, or an apology, or something, but Teyla cuts me off. "We're fine, John."

Damn Lorne. He must have tattled on me about the... slight overreaction earlier.

I flick a glance to Ronon, but he just crosses his arms. "It was nothing we couldn't handle."

"Good," I say, and then return to my pacing.

I can feel both of their gazes on me, eyes tracking each step I take, and the weight of their stares slows my pace some. I'm not exactly sure what they think they see but I get the distinct impression I'm about to be wrestled down into one of the chairs lining the room.

"We have been told Rodney is in surgery," Teyla says quietly, trying to broach the subject as gently as possible. Since she's stating the obvious, I don't bother to answer. "What happened to him?"

My steps falter, and for a long moment the most I can do is study the intricate patterns of the stained glass windows in the waiting room. "Did you feel the earthquakes?"

"Yes," she says quietly. "After they started, the negotiations... took an unfortunate turn."

"They thought it was our fault," Ronon puts in.

I screw my eyes shut. Damn it...


"It was our fault," I tell them. "Something in the lab set them off." Or at least I think it did. I hadn't been listening to Rodney's theories on it. Just didn't seem that important at the time. I'm still not sure if it is.

They trade a twin look of concern, but it's Teyla who gently prompts. "And what about Rodney?"

"He got into an argument with a piece of the building that wanted to kill me."

Their expressions darken with understanding, and for a while the room is very quiet. Then Ronon loses his patience and manhandles me into a chair in between them. Both of them completely ignore my attempts at apologies for leaving them behind, and opt to fill the silence with colorful tales about the many cross-cultural heroes in the Pegasus Galaxy.

To them, you can't forgive someone when there's nothing to blame—except there's a small part of me that wishes they weren't so goddamn understanding. Guilty men shouldn't get off so easily.

This is so typically Rodney.

Making us worry, making us wait, making us sweat. Making some us try to write his eulogy while he's still alive and failing utterly at mediation. Well, I'm done with it. Gaping, life-threatening wounds or no, he should have a little bit of decency to just magically heal himself on the spot, because I do not want to go completely gray before I'm fifty. The Sheppard men have a long-standing reputation for looking much younger than they really are—and it's unfair that he's making me age prematurely.

When I'm not looking, Teyla grabs my hand and it gives it a brief squeeze. "I am sure we will hear something soon."

"Yeah." I extricate my hand and resettle in my seat, trying to ignore the wounded look I get for rejecting her offer of comfort. I don't need it. I am fine. "Any minute now."

It's been too long. Where the hell is Keller?

It can't be that hard to fix McKay. I mean, it's not like he was barely breathing when they rolled him away. It's not like he had a giant hole torn through his body that might require delicate surgery. Really, it's not like he could be dying in there right now...

Damn it, sitting is really not working. I need to do something, anything. Who says my contribution to this has to end at getting him to the doctors? Surely, there is something more I can do than just sit in this waiting room like I've done every single time before.

I hate this goddamn room.

I escape the confines of the chair and resume my efforts to wear a trench into the floor. Ronon lets out a soft, exasperated grunt, and Teyla softly calls my name. Nothing else is said though, because we've been here a thousand times before and said it every time in every variation known to man. And it's a hell of a lot easier to be dying on the other side of that door, instead of being on this side—just waiting.

I'm so sick of waiting and trying to figure out what I'm going to do if Keller walks through that door looking tired and defeated, instead of just tired and weary. I spent an entire month trying to figure that out when that brain parasite stole pieces of Rodney from us daily. I had a whole month, and I still couldn't figure it out. And if there hadn't been the eleventh hour save at the Shrine, I can't make any guarantees that I wouldn't still be trying to figure it out even right now...

I could have been Mensa.

I'm a smart guy. Maybe not as smart as Rodney, but still enough to get by in this crazy galaxy. Smart enough to think up some sort of contingency plan if worse comes to worse.

We're still waiting, but in the meantime I've come up with the perfect plan:

If for some reason Rodney does decides to walk into that bright, beckoning light—I'm going to charge into the afterlife guns blazing and drag his loud ass back from the beyond.

Of course, this plan is a work-in-progress. I haven't worked out some of the more minor details, such as how one might cross metaphysical boundaries and make McKay pull his best Lazarus impression—but it's still feasible.

I'm pretty sure I can get Ronon on board with the idea. He can never turn down a good fight, and he's been looking pretty bored for the past five minutes. I could make it a big team activity, a real chance to work on our group bonding... but something tells me that Teyla might not be so eager to take up the cause. Ever since she entered motherhood, she's become far too sensible—and I'm still too enamored with the plan to be able to hear any constructive criticism yet. She'd probably try and poke holes in my sound logic with statements like: "that makes no sense", "what you suggest is impossible", "one does not simply walk into Mordor", and maybe even the slightly true "John, I think you need to get some sleep".

"What are you thinking?" Ronon rumbles. He looks ready to spring into action, just waiting for me to give the word that "Operation: Hellraiser" is a go.


I'm back in the chair. Ronon threatened to sit on me. Teyla threatened to let him because my pacing was making her dizzy. I threatened to keep on doing it anyway just to spite them. For some reason that didn't really scare them like it should have.

I'm starting to wonder if I really do need to get some sleep.

It's tempting, but each time I close my eyes I can see the life bleeding out of Rodney in the copilot's seat. Can hear the echoes of that horrible sound that he made when I pulled him off the rebar. It's possible that this is normal for most people—but most people aren't me. They haven't done this a million times over now. I've been in this room—in this same stupid chair—so many times that it should be easier to endure the repeat performances of this song and dance.

The door opens, and it's a fight to see which of the three of us can make it out of our seats first.

I win.

Ronon and Teyla aren't far behind me as we don't-quite-crowd Keller, who is looking tired and... weary. Just tired and weary. That rush of cool air washing over me and making everything go out of focus for a second could be considered relief I guess. With how many times I've done this, you think I would be able to tell.

"It was close," she says quietly, "but we were able to repair the damage."

I don't ask her to qualify exactly how close, because I don't think I want to know the answer. And if I choose to read into the tense way she holds her shoulders and the tight smile, I already know anyway.

"You can see him after we move him out of recovery—but only for a few minutes. I don't expect him to wake for several hours." Which is Atlantis Chief-of-Medicine speak for: "I know you're going to ignore me anyway, but if you wake my patient I will not hesitate to order invasive physicals for all of you." Her and Carson are cut from the same cloth in that way.

Keller looks at me, a little too closely for my comfort. I think we're about to start another round of "What injury is John Sheppard hiding today?", but she just gives me a small, sad smile instead. "He's going to be okay. I promise."

Good to hear. "Operation: Hellraiser", as brilliant as it was, still needs some tweaking. I'll have most of the kinks worked out the next time...

Next time...

"That is very good news," Teyla says, giving me a curious look.

It is good news, great news. Except...

I shouldn't be thinking about "next time" already.

Rodney's squirming wakes me. I didn't even realize that I had fallen asleep, because I was sure that the horror movie reruns were going to keep me up all night. Guess I really was tired.

"Your feet stink," he croaks. "Do you ever wash your socks?"

I pull my feet from their familiar perch near the head of his cot and slowly stand and stretch. The lights in the infirmary are still low, and I can hear Ronon snoring from the cot he "acquired" when the nursing staff wasn't looking. Teyla is stretched out across several chairs she collapsed on after checking in with Kanaan and Torren for the night. I'm fairly certain she would have been a lot more comfortable in her own bed, or at the very least a cot, but there was no moving her once she was out.

I finish stretching out the worst of the kinks, except there's a huge knot that's formed between my shoulders from falling asleep in that position. Rodney grunts, managing to effuse it with both confused concern and disgruntled impatience. Oh, guess I forgot to respond to his oh-so-witty stinky sock remark.

"These are a clean pair." I tossed out the socks I was wearing earlier with the rest of the physical reminders of our unfortunate adventure on P2Y-459. "But hey, you're awake."

"Yeah," he croaks, looking both tired and annoyed, "Captain Obvious."

"That would be Lieutenant Colonel Obvious, if we were going to be technical about it."

Instead of responding like he usually would, he looks at me intensely—or as intense as someone on a party cocktail of pain killers can—as if he's searching for something.

I don't exactly squirm, but I do shift a little under the scrutinizing gaze. "What?"

"You look like hell."

That might be because we barely escaped there alive. "You're a real charmer, McKay."

He blinks lethargically, and I'm guessing that the drugs are already pulling him back down. "John..."

He utters it just tired and soft enough that I have a brief flashback to him degenerating with that thing in his brain. I blink, and its gone. He's still blinking heavily as he struggles to stay awake, so I muster a smile and answer him. "Yeah?"


I'm about to ask him what he means by that, but his eyes drift shut and his breathing evens out as he slips back into sleep. I let the fake smile drop, but don't sit down right away. It was probably the drugs talking, because from where I'm standing, things aren't back to "okay" just yet.

The infirmary is just a little too crowded these days, so I slip out at the first opportunity. There's a lot of paperwork to catch up on, so much that I'm practically drowning in it. A lot of what I'm sorting through are things Lorne usually takes care of, but I'm already here and working. Besides... he can have a little break. He brought my team back—well, two-thirds of it.

The personnel and dry mission reports are beginning to make my eyes cross, and I'm starting to remember why I usually delegate this kind of work. I knead at the tension bunching up at my temples, when another message appears in my inbox. Some sort of mission request that I open without really looking at any details, including the sender. It's all a giant blur of text, nothing really registering until I finally see the designation of the planet the science team wants to revisit. The plastic casing of the laptop creaks in protest as I practically slam the lid shut.

"No. No way in hell," I growl to the open doorway.

"How did you know I was here?" A familiar voice drifts in from the hallway.

"I didn't."

"Oh." There's a quiet click of a laptop being shut before Rodney drags himself in, slowly letting his gaze wander the office as if searching for something. "Huh."

"What?" I ask impatiently.

"I thought you'd have at least one suitcase."

"...why would I have a suitcase in my office?"

"Well, you left on this guilt trip a few days ago. It would make sense to pack an overnight bag."

He's hardly impressed by the glare I give him, and instead decides to finish letting himself in. He's still entirely too pale, and looks like he's going to fain—pass out before he'll make it to either of the chairs set up in front of my desk. I watch him, careful to keep my jaw clenched tightly together so I don't let my annoyance boil over into anger and say something I don't exactly mean.

He's sweating by the time he makes it, taking care to set the laptop on the desk before he collapses into the seat. "Okay, in theory... that was a much shorter walk."

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I ask tightly.

"Right now I'm ruining your upholstery. God, I'm sweating like a pig." He pauses in mopping his brow. "Although pigs don't really sweat. Which sort of defeats the purpose of the metaphor."

"I mean what the hell do you think you're doing out of the infirmary in your condition?" He still looks like death warmed over, and it's been days since our mad rush to the gate. "How did you convince Keller to let you leave?"

"I took a page out of your book," he says, tipping his head back and closing his eyes for a moment as he tries to catch his breath. "I forgot to ask for permission."

"That's not going to win you any points with her."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he says lightly.

Uh huh. Sure.

"I don't," he insists. "Besides, I needed the exercise."

I quirk an eyebrow. "Is that the best you can come up with?"

"At the moment... yes."

I take in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He has about fifteen seconds before I get on the radio and give up his location. "McKay."

"Fine." He exhales heavily before finally opening his eyes. "Seeing as you've developed a sudden aversion to the infirmary, I had to come here to talk to you."

"Didn't need to come here to do that." I tap the newfangled piece of technology that we use every day. "I have a radio."

"Well, I don't. Jennifer won't let me have one. She keeps saying things about micromanagement leading to strokes, and not wanting to deal with that in addition to impalement this week."

"How lazy of her."

"I know, right?"

"I'm telling her you said that."

His eyes bug out. "You can't—"

Usually the action makes him resemble an irate chipmunk, but with the way he's wilting in the chair he looks more like a kicked puppy. And that takes all of the fun out of messing with him. "I'm kidding."

He lets out a sigh of relief. "That's not very funny."

"Sorry, bad habit."

"Yeah," he says, and finally looks up at me with that same searching expression he's had since he woke up a few days ago. "So..."

"'So' what?"

"So, what do you say about the mission?" He waves his good arm at my laptop.

"I say the same as I did two minutes ago: the answer is still a resounding 'hell no'."

"Why not?"

I curl my hands around the arms of my chair, because if not, I just might slug him. Seeing as how he doesn't stand much of a chance when he's not recovering from nearly fatal injuries, it wouldn't be a very fair fight at the moment.

"What possible reason could you have for going back to P2Y-459?" I finally say, unable to keep my voice even. "Want a postcard? Grab a souvenir? Get a matching scar in your other shoulder?"

"I thought the lab needed further study."

"What do you expect to find there other than rubble?"

"Just a little proof for a working hypothesis."

"And what hypothesis would that be?"

"That despite the fact that you believe the universe revolves around a Sheppard-centric system, none of what happened is actually your fault."

"I don't think it's my fault."

"Oh, good. Then you won't mind looking me in the eye when you say that."

My fingernails dig into the skin of my still slightly-irritated palms, but I look him in the eye.

"You could have died." Missed it by inches, through shoulder instead of through the heart. Almost missed getting him here by mere minutes. Or seconds... I don't know how much on time, because I still haven't gotten the guts to ask Keller. "You nearly did."

"Really? That had never occurred to me, what with all of the horrible, mind numbing pain, pieces of metal sticking through my shoulder, and let us not forget all of the blood transfusions."

"It's not funny."

"Do you see me laughing?" His glare isn't nearly as intimidating when he's so damn pale, but I'm pretty sure the anger is just as potent now as it would be if he were his normal hypertensive, borderline-stroke bright red. "I was there. I'm painfully aware of exactly how close I came to not being able to sit here and berate you."

How close my decision to make a run for it came to killing him.

"Stop that!" he barks.

"I didn't say anything."

"That doesn't mean I still can't hear you." He levels me with a look. "Seriously, the martyr syndrome is getting more than a little old."

"Would you rather I be happy about what happened?"

"It wouldn't hurt!" I just look at him, pretty sure I didn't hear that right. He closes his eyes, and looks so tired and worn out that some of my anger drains away. "Would you rather be dead right now?"

I don't need any time to think about that. "No."

"Well, same here," he mutters. "I don't know why you can't be a little happier about that part."

"About not being dead?"

"Yes! Would it kill you to appreciate that just a little?"

"I do appreciate it."

"Really?" He cracks an eye open. "Because I haven't heard you say anything like that until just now."

"There were extenuating circumstances—like making sure you didn't die in the process. I was just a little too busy at the time to say 'thank you'."

"You're welcome," he says airily. "That wasn't too hard, was it?"

Have I mentioned that Rodney McKay is an asshole? Probably not enough. "McKay..."

"What? Oh right." He waves his good hand in the air dismissively. "Turnabout is fair play and all. Thank you for the very intense, insane, and borderline disturbing rescue."

"You're welcome?"

"You don't sound so sure about that."

"I'm not sure I exactly followed anything past 'martyr syndrome'."

He gives me a narrow-eyed look. "You're lying."

"I think it's past time you went back to the infirmary."

"Now just hold on, I'm not done yet."

I roll my eyes up to the ceiling. Of course he isn't.

"I just..." He lets out a ragged sigh. "You didn't leave me there."

I can't help but arch a brow. "And this surprises you?"

"Yes. I mean, no, not really, but... just... okay, this is really hard to do hopped up on pain killers."

"I'm calling Keller."

"Don't." He leans forward a little too quickly, and winds up grabbing the desk for support with one hand.


He lets out a stuttered breath, before continuing, "John, just... give me a second."

I allow him to try and regain his composure, although my finger is hovering over the radio's call button. He leans back and very carefully wipes away at the sweat gathering at his brow. "I really didn't think this through."

"You're telling me."

"Think it's the meds?"

"Could be." Having experienced the magical Keller Pain Cocktail on many an occasion myself, I can understand the tendency it has to lead to the occasional delusion of grandeur/lack of judgment. "Look, let me just call her in here. You really don't look like you should be up."

"That eager to get out of this conversation?"

"I haven't turned you in yet." Against my better judgment—he's looking entirely too worn down from the short walk here from the infirmary.

"Thanks." He stares at his hands, fingers twitching absently. "And I do mean that, you know... for back there."

"There's nothing to—"

"Just don't interrupt me, okay? That whole thing, it really sucked for me—but I know that if it had been the other way around... look, I know it was probably just as bad for you."

"I thought you called that part 'insane' and 'borderline disturbing'."

"See, you were listening." Rats. Caught. "And it was disturbing. You were going to let a building come down on you for no good reason."

I feel the nerve in my jaw twitch. "There was a good reason."

His fingers stop twitching and he just stares silently for a moment. "Yeah, okay. But... if by chance the universe hates us and we wind up in that situation again—just leave, okay?"


His face hardens, but he still doesn't look up. "Look, I appreciate the sentiment. But if it's one hundred percent certain I'm going to die... like I'm locked in a room filled with space raptors or something equally absurd—" It's the painkillers talking, I must remind myself, "—I would prefer that you could forget your insane death wish for a few moments and choose to not die. Mutual destruction for the sake of itself... it's just wasteful."

I think there might be a backhanded compliment buried somewhere in all of that, but I don't feel like digging it out. "I'm only going to tell you this one more time, Rodney, and I want you to remember it."

He drags his head up to look at me with that tired, annoyed gaze. "What?"

"You're stuck with me. You just need to accept it."

He narrows his eyes, looking like he wants to say something witty in response. I'm guessing the Keller Cocktail is working its magic because instead of letting loose with any scathing remarks, he just glares.

"And," I push up from my seat and circle around the desk, coming to stand behind his chair, "I think it's time for you to get back to your cot—maybe re-up on your happy juice. You're getting a little crabby."

"Have I mentioned that I hate you?"

The pitiful, angry glower he directs at me can't help but make the corners of my mouth tug up in a smile. Yep, it never gets old. "You may have said something along those lines once or twice. Just in passing."

"Well, it bears repeating," he grumbles, very carefully pushing himself to his feet. "You also suck."

"I've heard that one too." I back off, giving him enough room to walk on his own—but still close enough in case he needs a little help. "You're like a broken record, McKay."

"You're a broken record," he sneers right before his step falters a little.

"Ooh, burn." I grab a light hold, careful to avoid the areas swathed in bandages, and help put him back upright. "What's next? I am rubber, you are glue?"

"You try having a razor sharp wit when your mind is dulled by drugs." He uses his good arm to grab a handhold of my sleeve, effectively wrangling me as a human crutch.

"I'll pass. One user on the team is enough."

"Hey!" he squawks. "I'm not a user—or where you referring to Ronon? He does look like he might use a little bit of steroids. No way is that amount of bulk naturally obtained."

"He'll be thrilled to hear that."

"How is he going to know I said it? Unless... you traitor!"

"Haven't sold you up the river yet." I tip my head down the hall, and give him a physical nudge in the correct direction. "Trust me, I've gotten some pretty tempting offers in the past."

"Really?" He narrows his gaze. "How tempting?"

"Eh, about Katharine Ross level of temptation."

"Katharine Ross. The younger girl from The Graduate. Seriously?"

"You'll notice I didn't take them up on the offers."

"And what onscreen bimbo would test your loyalties?"

I've always had an appreciation for Angelina Jolie. That would not elicit the proper reaction, though. "Shatner has a certain onscreen charm."

This time when he nearly trips, I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with pain meds or injuries. "That's... what the hell kind of offers have you been getting that involve actors instead of money? And what exactly were you supposed to do to me? Wait, I don't even want to know."

I help him find his equilibrium, and continue herding him down the hall. "Probably best that way."

"Sometimes you really disturb me," he says without any venom. He tightens his grip on my sleeve, tugging at the material as he tries to get better purchase. "You... you're okay, aren't you?"

After the past few days... the honest answer should be a no. I don't even know why he's asking it, considering which one of us is infirmary bound. So no, I'm not terrific or fantastic... but Rodney is here and alive, even if he's a little doped up and more confessional than usual. I'm here too—and not a Shep-kabob back on that planet—and I guess that's not too bad either. So, all things considered...

"Yeah, I'm all right."

It's not the most Earth shattering revelation. Like a lot of things in life—lousy coffee in the mess after ten a.m., Ronon wiping the gym floor with every marine on base, Rodney's inability to stay silent for more than five seconds, and me somehow still being stuck with him five years later, like Butch and Sundance going out together at the end—it just is.

And I'm good with that.


Assignment: Rodney taking a hit of some kind -- shot, stabbed, anything -- to protect John.